Friday, December 10, 2021

Katie Snipes Lancaster

The Nativity
Matthew 1:24–25 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Reflection on the Nativity
You’re on the precipice of a major life decision. You know it could go either way. You can’t avoid making a decision. You can’t run and hide (and anyway, running and hiding would itself be a decision). A choice must be made and no one can make it but you. You’re not stuck, per se, but you can’t quite see the road ahead, regardless of what decision you make. You’ve made a pro/con list. You’ve consulted the wise people in your life. You’ve talked confidentially with those who are close to the situation. There’s nothing left to do but declare, one way or another. The sun has gone down, and in the morning, you’ll take your first step into a new future. You’re ready. But then you go to bed. That’s when the dream comes unbidden. You wake up and everything has shifted. You know you must take the other road.

At least that’s what happens to Joseph the night he is visited by the angel of the Lord. Everything turns upside down overnight, and suddenly he becomes part of a drama that is still unfolding to this day (and of course sometimes, these days, a drama retold by 6 year old’s in bathrobes).

Walter Brueggemann calls dreams “unbidden communication in the night,”[1] in which the perplexing, unreasonable “holy purposes of God” arise within us. For Brueggemann, dreams are a holy “intrusion from beyond” with “holy intensity.” Joseph it turns out is a dreamer. This is just his first of three dreams. In the chapter ahead (spoiler alert), he will dream that they must leave Bethlehem for Egypt to save their child from the violent King Herod and so they do. And then years later, he dreams that the way is clear, and he can return with his family, and settle in Nazareth. Maybe he’s particularly clairvoyant. Maybe God knows he won’t listen in the light of day, when reason and tradition feel much more sturdy than they do at midnight, when sleep ___. Maybe the author of the Gospel of Matthew is trying to signal to us, “something is happening here,” because Joseph’s namesake from generations past (Joseph, the one with the amazing technicolor dream coat) was also a dreamer, an interpreter of the “holy voice in the night.”

The world is changed because Joseph listened to the One who visited him in the night, that messenger of God who told him “Do not be afraid.” We are not particularly disposed to listening to our dreams, but every once in a while, when all the cards are on the table and there’s nowhere else to turn, I think we, too, might be open to listening in those off hours to the possibilities that churn just below the surface. In the vulnerability of the night, when the lights are dim and the world is quiet, our ears listen differently. The less conventional, more daring, more earth-shattering path carries that much more potential. It’s not easier, per se. It’s likely a more challenging, controversial, uphill route. But it’s a route we can say yes to, nonetheless.

Praying the nativity might open our ears to dreams not yet dreamed. It might give us the tools to listen. It might give us the courage to wake up ready to say “yes” to some as-yet-unanticipated future.

Praying the Nativity
Open our ears to even the most midnight of messages.
Give us ears to hear your holy purposes, perplexing as they are.
Let us follow your holy lead into our yet-undreamed future.

[1]“Holy intrusion: the power of dreams in the Bible” By: Brueggemann, Walter. Source: The Christian Century, 122 no 13 Jun 28, 2005, p 28–31.